The first time that I was properly aware of the Olympics was 1976. It all started with the Winter version, with what seemed like the whole country following John Curry as he succeeded in winning a gold medal in the men’s figure skating. I remember that there were several schoolboyish jokes about his surname doing the rounds, but I can’t remember what any of them actually were.
Then came the summer version. There was a fairly significant build up to this and the newspaper which we took at the time did a ‘cut-out-and-keep’ series of fact cards about the biggest British medal hopes. Of these, the brightest and most publicised was swimmer David Wilkie. Wilkie was every inch the 1970s male, with thick dark shoulder length hair and the sort of moustache that would nowadays get you banned from going within 100 yards of a gun shop. He did not disappoint, winning gold in the 200m breaststroke and silver in the 100m.
For others, though, the Games were something of a disappointment. It seemed as it being named as a medal prospect simply jinxed them. The only other two I can remember being mentioned on those ‘cards’ were Brendan Foster – who finished with a bronze medal – and boxer Charlie Magri, who didn’t make it past the quarter finals.
The thing I remember most of all about those games, though, is the excitement of waking up each morning to find out what had happened. Because they were being held in Montreal, most of the action took place well after I had gone to bed. In this way I was able to follow, via a series of breakfast time news announcements, the drama of the modern pentathlon competition.
In those days the event was spread out over three days instead of one, and there was no contest for women, but there was a team competition that no longer features in the Games. I listened anxiously from a distance as Jim Fox, Danny Nightingale and Adrian Parker inched their way towards the team gold medal. Amidst all of this came the drama of Russia’s Boris Onishenko being caught cheating in the fencing part of the contest, having rigged his equipment to register hits even if he did not make one.
Fox, Nightingale and Parker duly won their gold. I was so excited that I even adopted the name Jim Fox for any make-believe type games that I was playing for, oh, at least a week! My fascination with the Olympic Games lasted much longer.